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  • Shawn

Are you Team Tea or Team Cha?

Tea originated from China, and how other countries got introduced to tea from China influenced how they end up calling this ubiquitous, ancient beverage.

Team Tea - These countries got tea from the Southeast coastal region in China. These sounds are derived from the Minnan dialect, which pronounces like “tay”. This dialect is spoken in Taiwan, Fujian, Guangdong, and parts of Malaysia and Singapore.

English: tea

Irish: tae

French: thé



Dutch: thee

Malay: teh

Indonesian: teh

Team Cha - These countries got tea either through the silk road or ports from central and northern part of China. These sounds are derived from Mandarin Chinese, which pronounces like "cha".

Portuguese: chá

Hindi: चाय (pronounces chaay)

Russian: чай (pronounces chay)

Japanese: cha

Filipino: tsaa

Thai: ชา (pronounces cha)

Vietnamese: trà

Notice that Portugal is the sole European country in Team Cha. This is because Portuguese traders first used Macau as a staging port as early as 1516, making it the oldest European settlement in the Far East. In Macau, the locals spoke the Cantonese dialect which calls tea "cha". To do business with the locals, the traders naturally sided with Team Cha.

On the other hand, Dutch had settlements around Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan, all of whom spoke the Minnan dialect. When the Dutch East India Company introduced tea to Europe, the name caught on with all the neighboring countries. While the Dutch soon lost their influence in the area, with only East Indies became a settler colony and remained under Dutch rule until 19492, their stamp on the naming of tea stood till today.

While I’m talking about tea, I will mention one of my random pet peeve about it. Since chai is the Hindi word for tea, calling a drink chai tea is like saying “tea tea”, which is just outright of silly. I blame Starbucks for it, of course.

Cross-posted from Eat Your Roots


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